New Tricks

I’m not an early adopter. By which I mean, it takes me a while to warm to new technology and/or upgrades. If what I’m using works for me, I hesitate to throw my groove off by having to possibly learn all new modes of working.

Yet as an author I’m told I must engage in all the latest. A Facebook page, a Twitter account, Instagram, etc. And the more I use these and get comfortable with them, the more I enjoy them. (Also, they’re addictive. I’m pretty sure studies have shown that. We all want our dose of gratification served up as “Likes” and “Retweets” and whatnot. It’s just like the lab rat pushing the button to get its cheese.)

So here is an article on social media for authors (or, specifically, updates that might help authors), and now I’m wondering if I should add Snapchat to my roster. Sigh. Who has the time to write any more when there’s all this to keep up with?

Stories Are Important

I don’t think it can be done in a sentence.

Stories are important because we step into them and stand back at the same time. Stories are a liminal space, a threshold.

You know how we define ourselves by first defining others? That is the function of stories. The ancient myths taught people how to behave. You don’t, for example, cut a visitor’s legs off after offering him a bed to sleep in. We don’t do that, this myth told the Greeks. And we take retribution on those who don’t follow the rules of hospitality. This is fair and just.

Stories now do much the same, though on grander scales. We read and identify. This is the right thing to do, we say to ourselves. Yes, that’s a smart way to act. Or: No! Don’t do that! We are invested, but from a safe distance.

Liminal spaces are not meant to be inhabited indefinitely. We pass through them. They are fleeting. Stories are the same. We pass through them, sometimes many times because we really want to stay. But we cannot. That is part of their charm. A holiday is no longer a holiday if you stay. A story is no longer a story if you never come out of it. (Then it’s dementia or something, I suppose.)

Stories are important. There is no sentence to finish. One could list a lot of reasons, but there is no need. Stories are important. Period.

Addendum

On my reviews site today, I covered Jean Twenge’s Generation Me, which talks about how the Millennials (or “Gen Me” or “Gen Y” or whatever you prefer to call them) have been raised to believe they can have and do anything. This leads to great expectations . . . and disappointments.

I’ve ranted before about how much I hate being told “you’ll get there someday.” It feels like a false promise. So when I see stuff like this:

I get irritated.

I know they mean well, and they’re trying to motivate and encourage writers. But not everyone is going to make it as a writer. There are more “writers” now than ever before and let’s be frank: not all of them can write.

They can learn, if they try. If they put forth the effort. But that’s a whole other problem with this particular generation—they’ve been raised to believe they’re already perfect and have no need to improve in any way.

But this post isn’t meant to get into all that. Go read about the book if you want to know more on that subject. I’m only saying that a burning desire is not enough. Talent isn’t even enough. I won’t go so far as to say “it’s who you know” or any of that, but publishing (and filmmaking) isn’t a meritocracy. It’s alchemy. It takes just the right combination of ingredients to succeed, and not everyone is going to get an O.W.L. in Potions.

So, yeah, I do kind of take offense when people say, indiscriminately, “You’ll be successful.” Because there’s no way to know that. And sure, it’s better than saying, “Just quit now and go home,” but . . . I’m all for truth. So maybe say, “Look, who knows? It may never happen, but if writing is what makes you happy, do it. Because the one thing you DO know is, if you stop, it really will never happen.”

Winter Wonderland

Our weather has taken an uptick the past couple days, which meant the start of a new holiday tradition: mini golfing! The kids had never been before, and they loved it.

I’ve also managed to get in a couple nice walks thanks to the cooperation of the weather:

1. “Stranded on a Sandbar” by Jimmy Buffett
2. “Argue” by Matchbox Twenty
3. “If I Could Give All My Love” by Counting Crows
4. “Bigger Than the Both of Us” by Jimmy Buffett
5. “Real World” by Matchbox Twenty
6. “Mrs. Rita” by Gin Blossoms
7. “Alison Road” by Gin Blossoms
8. “If You’re Gone” by Matchbox Twenty
9. “Unkind” by Tabitha’s Secret
10. “She Will Be Loved” by Maroon 5
11. “I’m the Cat” by Jackson Browne

1. “Fortunate Son” by Creedence Clearwater Revival
2. “Heaven” by O.A.R.
3. “Love and Luck” by Jimmy Buffett
4. “Everything Will Change” by Gavin DeGraw
5. “It’s Not Right For You” by The Script
6. “Why Should I Cry For You” by Sting
7. “Rest Stop” by Matchbox Twenty
8. “Human” by The Killers
9. “All the Right Moves” by OneRepublic
10. “Luck” by American Authors

Yes, I know, a marked lack of holiday tunes. But for some reason “the cloud” won’t let me download my Andy Williams, and I never did upload my Bing Crosby or Jimmy Buffett’s Christmas Island. So the only Christmas song on my iPod is Rob Thomas’ “New York Christmas.” Which it played the other day in the car but otherwise has been MIA in rotation.

I do think it’s funny that I had “Fortunate Son” stuck in my head, and that was the first song my iPod pulled up today.

And my hawk friend joined me again today on my walk, too. I see him pretty regularly now. I take pictures, but WordPress is not letting me upload any for some reason, so I can’t share. Such a pain, and I’m not at all tech savvy, so . . . (I do also put them on Facebook, if you friend me there. Look me up as Amanda Langlinais Pepper. It’s a personal page, not an author page; I had an author page but couldn’t keep up with it, so I stick to this and Twitter for that stuff.)

Anyway, we’ve entered that Winter Wonder-wasteland in which one ceases to receive any email that isn’t the virtual version of a sales flyer. Sigh. I hope this doesn’t mean a cascade of rejections after New Year’s! In the meantime, I’ll try to enjoy the holiday break, even though I’m itching for [good] news.

Weekly Stats

I had a somewhat better week than the past couple. No outright rejections this week, though I also have not had that magical offer I’m seeking. But! There has been progress on a number of fronts.

1. The agent who favorited my #pitmad tweet from last week requested my full manuscript.

2. There was a similar exercise on Twitter called #PitchMAS, and even though I hadn’t planned to be pitching, I got a couple more partial requests from it.

3. A producer requested to read 20 August.

4. I applied for an unpaid internship with a literary agent—I think it would be a great learning experience, and also a lot of fun—and she’s sent me a manuscript to evaluate as part of her screening process. Hey, even if I don’t get the job, it’s nice to be considered. And I’m enjoying the feeling of having options. Of not being stuck with just one project or outlet or possible path to . . . Wherever I’m headed.

Of course all this means I’m a tad behind on my word count for Changers. But it’s very exciting to be in demand.

Random Notes

I hope everyone [in the U.S.] had a nice Thanksgiving Holiday. Ours was good, with family visiting (so at least we weren’t driving or flying anywhere). I even got in a nice Thanksgiving Day walk:

1. “Sister Golden Hair” by America
2. “Love Is the Seventh Wave” by Sting
3. “Hands Are Tied” by Gin Blossoms
4. “Falling Farther In” by October Project
5. “Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard” by Paul Simon
6. “Natural” by Rob Thomas
7. “Not Over You” by Gavin DeGraw
8. “The Burn” by Matchbox Twenty
9. “Never Seen Anything ‘Quite Like You'” by The Script
10. “Disease” by Matchbox Twenty
11. “Here Comes Horses” by Tabitha’s Secret

As for submission stats for the week, well, I received 4 rejections, 1 request, and continued some e-mail correspondence with one agent who has been giving me great (read: useful) feedback on making the manuscript a bit stronger. Progress.

#PitMad is coming on Thursday, too, over on Twitter. So fellow writers looking for agents should plan to participate. Rules can be found here.

Hashtags

There is a hashtag on Twitter (used to be all the hashtags were on Twitter, but they seem to be expanding): #MSWL. It stands for “manuscript wish list” and is ostensibly for literary agents to tweet what kinds of books they’d like to see cross their desks. You know, like, “Hamlet but with girls and a happier ending” or whatever (I’m just making something up for an example).

The thing is, instead of using this hashtag to find agents, writers have started using #MSWL to pitch their manuscripts. Now, some might be making an honest mistake (I did early on as well), but a few are persistent “violators.” They’ve been told #MSWL isn’t for them to promote themselves, but they keep doing it anyway.

But this post isn’t really about shaming anyone. It’s actually just that this phenomenon got me thinking about hashtags and their uses. You’ll notice I put “violators” in quotes. That’s because there aren’t really any rules to using hashtags. I mean, there may be understandings, but there is no way to enforce a specific use of any tag or label. Public shaming is about as far as one can go. It’s usually effective. But not always.

So. You’ve created a hashtag for a specific use. Then it gets co-opted by people who turn it around and use it another way. What, really, are your options?

Until there’s a way to privatize these things—can you imagine? needing permission to use a hashtag? being fined for misuse of one?—social media frequenters will simply have to put up with those who refuse to follow the rules. After all, some of them are excited by the fact you keep calling them out. In their minds public shaming is still publicity.

We’re relying on a honor system here. But some people have no honor. Just as in the real world we encourage people to throw their trash in bins, you’re still going to find the occasional scrap of litter in the grass. We get angry, maybe, but on the whole we’ve come to ignore it. Assholes, we think. Even as we step around the mess.

The Chinese Restaurant

Literary agent Melissa Flashman was tweeting yesterday evening:

You may wonder what this has to do with books, but it’s all about meeting expectations in a way that sets you apart from the competition.

San Francisco (the Bay Area, as mentioned in the tweet) has a large Asian population and a well-known Chinatown. So why is it so challenging to be a Chinese restaurant there? Well, for one, the market is saturated. There are a lot of Chinese (and Thai, and Vietnamese, etc.) restaurants in San Francisco, each one offering its version of General Tso’s (or Gao’s, or however that particular restaurant decides to spell it). When there’s a lot of something—more supply than demand—how do you set yourself apart?

The second challenge is that people will already have their favorite places to eat. So these restaurants have to find ways to tempt the clientele away from their usual hangouts.

And then once they’re in the door, how do these restaurants meet the diners’ expectations? By providing what’s familiar—there’s that General Tso’s—while still somehow making it unique enough to set it apart from all the other saucy, spicy fried chicken dishes out there.

The same goes for almost anything you might market, but let’s look at books in particular. You’ve written a paranormal romance. There’s gobs of paranormal romance out there already. How will people find your book? What will make them pick it up instead of whatever is shelved next to it in the same category? And if they already like Patricia Briggs, what can you do to get them to pick up your book instead of hers (or at least after hers)? [A: Get Briggs to blurb your book, if possible, but other than that . . .]

I’m not going to say I have answers to these questions because the answers will vary by book and genre. One can’t market to individuals because everyone is different. The best one can hope to do is get a wide swath of readers with your campaign. And by thinking like a Chinese restaurant in San Francisco:

1. Make yourself attractive and inviting so that the reader chooses you out of the pile of options
2. Provide what the reader craves: something familiar BUT . . .
3. Make sure you’re giving him something unique enough, too, that he comes back for more AND recommends you to friends

It sounds easier than it is. Restaurants are notorious for opening and then folding relatively quickly because if they don’t make it in the first few weeks or months, they never will. Books have a longer, ahem, shelf life and more chances to find that readership, but with more books coming out every day, it’s increasingly difficult to rise to the top of the pile. Of course, writing a really good book helps. But every writer thinks they’ve written a really good book, or at least hopes so. And with so much noise out there, it can be hard to hear/find even the best stuff. So if you’re a writer, you’re really hoping that readers not only discover you but also share that discovery. Word of mouth, good online reviews—this is the stuff that makes or breaks restaurants. And writers.

The Waiting . . . + Tuesday Tunes

So yesterday was a whirlwind of excitement, what with the final cut of Adverse Possession and the new audiobook version of my short story.

But I’m still toiling away at trying to get agents and publishers interested in Peter, too. On the up side, I haven’t had any more rejections. On the down side, I haven’t had any more requests for the manuscript, either. All in all, it’s pretty quiet out there.

And not to hit the Twitter button too hard—really, I should just do myself a favor and stay away from Twitter entirely—but all these agents say they’re looking for manuscripts. But then they don’t answer. And I’m pretty disheartened when I see an agent I submitted to tweeting that they just requested eight manuscripts via queries but I haven’t heard anything. (Of course, I don’t know how long ago those queries were sent and whether she just hasn’t gotten to mine yet.)

One agent in particular I had high hopes for. But I waited the 8 weeks (actually, I waited 10) and no response. So I sent a follow-up e-mail. That was 3 weeks ago. I know their agency has a policy of responding, whether it’s a yes or a no, so . . . Actually, I know a couple of the other agents in the agency, but neither represents my particular genre, so I’d gone with the guy I thought was the best fit for my novel. But he’s off on Twitter going on about television shows and concerts and first dates.

One of the senior agents, with whom I happen to have a connection, gave me a different e-mail address for this guy and told me to nudge him again. And she supposedly also nudged from her end as well. That was yesterday. It’s now 5:00 in NY, and I still haven’t heard anything.

At least she told me I could try someone else in the agency if it comes to that.

Anyway, this morning the weather was somewhat cooler. But I had an appointment so also had to curb my walk a little:

1. “Get In Line” by Barenaked Ladies
2. “Honey, Let Me Sing You a Song” by Matt Hires
3. “Brighter Than the Sun” by Colbie Caillat
4. “Candy” by Gavin DeGraw
5. “Put Your Hands Up” by Matchbox Twenty
6. “American Girls” by Counting Crows
7. “I’m So Happy I Can’t Stop Crying” by Sting

“Unwell” by Matchbox Twenty was just starting as I got home, but I like ending it with Sting. A hopeful note.